PORTSMOUTH — The first meeting of the two previously unbeaten SOC I teams lived up to its’ billing.
Dominant pitching in the circle by Clay senior Preslee Lutz and Notre Dame sophomore Gwen Sparks meant that Wednesday’s game was one where runs were hard to come by.
With the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the fifth, a leadoff walk by freshman Maddie Entler gave the Lady Titans its’ opportunity.
In the next at-bat, freshman Bree Hicks delivered an RBI double — scoring Entler from first to put Notre Dame back in front after Clay had tied the game in the third.
A two-out, two RBI double in the bottom of the sixth by sophomore Katie Strickland gave the Lady Titans a pair of insurance runs — scoring Sparks and junior Libby Kelly who reached with a one-out single and intentional walk, respectively.
That last blow gave Notre Dame (7-0, 6-0 SOC I) a 4-1 lead and — enough cushion for Sparks finish what she’d done all night in the circle: get out of innings.
“Definitely a good game, it was tight and that’s good for us to be tested and have some pressure on us,” Notre Dame coach Shad Ford said, afterwards. “Able to get out of a bases loaded jam when it was 1-1. Proud of how Gwen pitched tonight and our corners, Katie Strickland and Gracie Ashley, did great on the bunt coverage. Made the outs when we needed to and getting those insurance runs with Katie’s double in the sixth was huge.”
The Lady Titans got on the board first in the first when senior Maddie Brown collected an RBI on a sacrifice bunt to score junior Annie Dettwiller — who had a no-out single and advanced to second.
Clay (5-2, 2-1 SOC I) tied the game in the third on an RBI ground out by junior Morgan McCoy.
Sophomore Shea Edgington scored from third on McCoy’s groundout — after her leadoff double in the third. Edgington led Clay with a team-high three hits.
“So proud of this team — I think we showed people today that we can play,” Clay coach Jason Gearheart said, afterwards. “We could have easily won, but that’s a great Notre Dame team. That game gives us confidence we can beat anybody. We made the plays, put down some bunts, and Preslee pitched a great game.”
Inning-ending punchouts by Sparks left the bases loaded in the third and also the first — halting the Lady Panthers’ damage to a proverbial minimum.
Sparks finished with 12 strikeouts in the circle, allowing seven hits and the lone earned run credited to her pitching line.
Lutz, who is battling through an injury, pitched one of her best games in a Lady Panther uniform, according to Gearheart. The senior right-hander allowed nine hits, four earned runs, and struck out eight in the contest.
Both coaches had insight on the quality pitching matchup that unfolded in Wednesday’s meeting.
“Sparks spins the ball really well. Likes to stay on the outside — lot of movement — probably the best movement pitcher I’ve seen,” Gearheart said. “Preslee’s hurt, but that was one of the best games she’s thrown. She’s fighting in her senior year.”
“Either one can dominate at times. Lutz is a good pitcher; Gwen hit her spots pretty well — if they put it in play it wasn’t hard shots,” Ford said. “Credit to her and our defense for keeping it simple and getting the outs when we needed to.”
Four different Lady Titans collected a stolen base in the game — sophomores Kyndall Ford, Strickland, Sparks, and the freshman Hicks.
Ford said activity on the base path was part of their gameplan coming into the game — and also may play a large-role in the team’s long term success.
“We’re trying to find our identity. Some days we’ll have to play small ball, other days we’ll be able to hit gappers,” Ford said. “We want to put the pressure on them. When we get runners on base, we want to use our team’s speed to try and get runs across.”
Clay and Notre Dame will meet for the second time at Carol Vice Memorial Field on Thursday, April 28. The Lady Panthers will also face SOC I contender Symmes Valley twice before the end of the regular season.
“We usually struggle down here, it’s a tight field to me. We know what to work on and I’m guessing we’ll see (Kyndall) Ford next time around,” Gearheart said. “This (game) gives us hope that we’ve got a shot to do something in the tournament.”
“Clay’s a good team that’s capable of beating anyone. It’ll be Clay and Symmes (Valley) competing right there with us,” Ford said. “It’ll be a tough game when we have to go out there (Clay). We were able to get an idea of who they are, and proud of our team for how they responded in a dog fight tonight.”
Clay 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 — 1 7 0
Notre Dame 1 0 0 0 1 2 — 4 9 1
Shea Edgington 3-4, R
Jacy Gearhart 2-4
Morgan McCoy 0-4, RBI
Katie Fife 1-3
Kyleigh Oliver 1-3
Kailey Ware 0-3
Jordyn Mathias 0-3
Preslee Lutz 0-3
Sarah Cassidy 0-3
Notre Dame hitting
Bree Hicks 3-3, RBI
Annie Dettwiller 2-3, R
Kyndall Ford 1-3
Maddie Brown 0-2, RBI
Gwen Sparks 1-3, R
Libby Kelly 1-2, R, BB
Kaylyn Darden 0-2
Katie Strickland 1-3, 2RBI
Maddie Entler 0-2, R, BB
Preslee Lutz (C) 6IP, 9H, 4ER, 2BB, 8K (L)
Gwen Sparks (ND) 7IP, 7H, 1ER, 0BB, 12K (W)
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 370-0713 ext. 1930, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved